Tag Archives: astronomy

Shared data reveals radio bursts, and a lunch break

In May 2014, a team led by PhD candidate Emily Petroff from Swinburne University was the first to see ‘fast radio bursts’ (FRBs) live, using the Parkes radio telescope in central New South Wales. The search was triggered by signals found in recycled data. They also discovered that someone was opening the kitchen microwave.

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No more twinkle, junk and stars, now we know just where you are

Technology that ‘de-twinkles’ stars is being used to pinpoint manmade space junk and avoid devastating collisions like those dramatised in the movie Gravity.

Artist’s impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope with the laser guide beams of its adaptive optics system. Credit: GMTO Corporation

Australian company Electro Optic Systems, based on Mount Stromlo in Canberra, is using adaptive optics and pulsing lasers to locate detritus too small for conventional radar. Ultimately, the company hopes to use similar lasers to remove the debris from orbit.

Adaptive optics helps the pulsing lasers to cut through the Earth’s atmospheric turbulence, which distorts and scatters light, by using a second orange-coloured laser to illuminate sodium atoms in the upper atmosphere.

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Australia’s newest radio telescope

Fundamental questions about the Universe are set to be answered as a new radio telescope in outback Western Australia comes online, using multiple beam radio receiver technology to view the sky with unprecedented speed and sensitivity.

CSIRO’s ASKAP antennas stand at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia. Credit: CSIRO

The Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP), CSIRO’s newest telescope, uses innovative phased array feed receivers, also known as ‘radio cameras’, to capture images of radio-emitting galaxies in an area about the size of the Southern Cross—far more than can be seen with a traditional radio telescope.

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Monster black holes supersize their galactic greed

Monster black holes lurking in the centres of galaxies are hungrier than previously thought, Melbourne scientists have discovered.

Artist’s impression of a star being pulled into a black hole. Credit: Gabriel Perez Diaz

Astrophysicist Alister Graham and his team at Swinburne University have revealed that these so-called supermassive black holes consume a greater portion of their galaxy’s mass the bigger the galaxy gets. The discovery overturns the longstanding belief that these supermassive black holes are always a constant 0.2 per cent of the mass of all the other stars in their galaxy.

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Wide open skies for Australian astronomy

CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope is already booked out for much of its first five years of data gathering, even before it formally begins early operations in 2013.

One of CSIRO’s ASKAP antennas at the MRO. Credit: Barry Turner, CSIRO

More than 400 astronomers from over a dozen nations have already signed up to look for pulsars, measure cosmic magnetic fields, and study millions of galaxies.

ASKAP was built at the specifically radio-quiet Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Western Australia as a technology demonstrator for the $2 billion Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.
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Birth of our hot Universe

An Australian physicist is unravelling the mystery of how the hot, brilliant stars we see today emerged from our Universe’s “dark age”.

Stuart Wyithe’s models of an early universe will be explored by the next generation of telescope. Credit: Prime Minister's Science Prizes/Bearcage
Stuart Wyithe’s models of an early universe will be explored by the next generation of telescope. Credit: Prime Minister’s Science Prizes/Bearcage

Theoretical physicist Prof Stuart Wyithe is one of the world’s leading thinkers on the Universe as it was 13 billion years ago, when there were no stars or galaxies, just cold gas.

In the next few years astronomers will learn much more as powerful new telescopes come online.

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Prized astronomer continues to contribute

He received the first ever Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year in 2000, then the Shaw Prize in Astronomy in 2006, the Gruber Cosmology Prize in 2007 and the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011—it’s been a satisfying progression for Brian Schmidt, professor of astronomy at the Australian National University, and for Australian science. Schmidt led one of two research teams that determined that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.

Brian Schmidt, the Malcolm McIntosh Physical Scientist of the Year 2011. Credit: ANU
Brian Schmidt, the Malcolm McIntosh Physical Scientist of the Year 2000 and 2011 Physics Nobel Laureate. Credit: ANU

But winning awards does not mean he’s resting on his laurels. Apart from countless invitations to speak, Brian has his hands full with commissioning SkyMapper, a new optical telescope equipped with Australia’s largest digital camera at 268 megapixels. And he’s also involved in two significant new facilities pioneering technology to be used in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope: the Murchison Widefield Array and the Australian SKA Pathfinder. And in his spare time, he’s working on one of the next generation of optical telescopes, the Giant Magellan Telescope.
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Galactic shutterbug

A new instrument at the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) can sample the light coming from hundreds of galaxies per night—which can tell us new things about the universe.

Astronomer Sam Richards sitting in the prime focus cage at the Anglo-Australian Telescope, where the SAMI instrument usually sits. Credit: Jon Lawrence
Astronomer Sam Richards sitting in the prime focus cage at the Anglo-Australian Telescope, where the SAMI instrument usually sits. Credit: Jon Lawrence

Sydney-AAO Multi-object Integral field spectrograph (SAMI) can look at up to 100 galaxies in a night, because it can look at 60 different regions in each of 13 different galaxies, all at once.

But most observatories around the world can only do one galaxy at a time.
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Managing a data mountain

The world’s largest telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is expected to generate more data in a single day than the world does in a year at present. And even its prototype, CSIRO’s ASKAP, is expected to accumulate more information within six hours of being switched on than all previous radio telescopes combined.

Such gargantuan streams of data require serious management, and that will be one of the jobs of the $80 million iVEC Pawsey Centre in Perth, which is due to be completed in 2013.

The planned Pawsey High-Performance Computing Centre for SKA Science in Perth (photo credit: Woodhead/CSIRO)

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